For those who spend their time working on the water with strenuous activity and extended workdays, an injury that reduces range of motion or strength can be a serious threat to their livelihood. Whether hauling traps, loading gear, or offloading product, a lobsterman’s normal tasks place a high amount of stress on his or her body. Knees, hips, back, and shoulders are all areas that feel pressure from the demands of the work. Whether it is chronic or acute, a physical injury can decrease efficiency and increase the risk of an accident.
Bobby Ingalls, a long-time Bucks Harbor lobsterman, started going to physical therapy after having surgery on both knees. He has kept going to a physical therapist for knee, hip, and back issues since then, experiencing a variety of approaches including deep tissue massage and dry needling — a technique where electrical impulses are used to stimulate the muscles. Ingalls found that physical therapy helped reduce a lot of his soreness and made it so that he doesn’t have to take medication. “It’s not a cure-all, but it is a help and keeps you going,” Ingalls said during a phone interview. “More people should take advantage of this.”
Physical therapists, chiropractors, and massage therapists all play a role in providing services that help injured or ill individuals continue their normal activities within their daily life. Whether it is a recent injury or a long-term condition, therapy can be a pathway for reducing pain and improving strength and mobility.
Physical therapists can also provide suggestions for simple changes to boat structure and organization to reduce repetitive stress and likelihood of injury. Heather Beal Anderson, owner of Coastal Physical Therapy Services in Harrington, grew up lobstering with her dad. Additionally, all four of her employees grew up in the community and three of them are from lobstering families themselves.
As a young woman, Anderson noticed the repetitive movements used on a lobster boat and how those could lead to neck and shoulder pain, especially on the right side of the body. Because of the typical set-up of a lobster boat, Anderson often sees certain types of injuries in her patients. “Back injuries are the most predominant, but also shoulder problems, right rotator cuff problems, and knee arthritis,” she said. An example of an easy change on the boat she suggested that would help avoid injury was adding a pad on the sideboard to reduce pain and impact on the knee.
Dr. Hollan Oliver, owner of Coastline Physical Therapy and Performance in Deer Isle, also found her background in the industry helpful when communicating with lobstermen. “It really helps when I’m educating fishermen about ergonomics and work-related activities. It’s great to be able to tell a lobsterman that they’re suffering from a mechanical shoulder injury, but its so much more beneficial if you can talk about how they’re picking lobsters, or how they’re breaking traps,” she said.
Oliver said that she sees a lot of lobstermen in her practice. “When I first opened my practice two years ago I was seeing a lot of lobstermen for chronic injuries. I’m happy to see that over the past year more of them are seeking preventative treatment as well,” she noted. Shoulder pain and upper extremity conditions are the most common injuries that Oliver treats because of repetitive movements, but chronic low back pain is also prevalent.
Sonny Beal is a lobsterman who has been experiencing nerve pain and has been going to physical therapy on and off for a few years. Beal noticed that most of the strain happened to the right side of his body due to the set-up of his boat and knows that many other lobstermen experience the same. In addition to physical therapy, Beal recommends “plenty of stretching before and after” in order to loosen up your muscles and make it easier for your body to recover. “[I] lay down on the floor and stretch every morning,” Beal said.
Ingalls believes that more people should take advantage of physical therapy. He suggested going on a regular basis and “do the [exercises] that you are supposed to because it helps a lot more.” When asked if he had advice for other lobstermen, Ingalls said, “What have you got to lose?”